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(Credit: Olivier Strecker)

Film

Decoding the spectacle of Gaspar Noé

@Russellisation

It’s hard to be shocked in the contemporary landscape of modern cinema, particularly when any cinematic surprise is unveiled long before the release of its corresponding movie through an all-too-revealing trailer or a bitter online troll, eager to be the first to reveal a particular upcoming Easter egg. Instead, to truly rattle your audience, a filmmaker must utilise a revolutionary new form of visual storytelling, parenting bold ideas with hefty weight. 

Such is the case for the Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noé who has crafted a filmography characterised by vibrant colours, electric soundtracks and visuals that make you sweat with anxiety. Both in form and content, Noé has no interest in keeping within the boundaries of ‘acceptable cinema’, pushing the craft to embody something far more profound. 

The son of the Argentine painter, writer, and intellectual Luis Felipe Noé, Gaspar grew up on a diet of foreign cinema, earning his fondness for hallucinatory cinema from the films of Stanley Kubrick. Citing 2001: A Space Odyssey as one of his greatest influences, he told Sight & Sound: “My life altered when I discovered it when I was about seven in Buenos Aires. It was my first hallucinogenic experience, my great artistic turning point and also the moment when my mother finally explained what a foetus was and how I came into the world”. 

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Creating his debut feature film in 1998 with I Stand Alone, after a handful of short films, Noé quickly established his love for the shocking spectacle, winning the International Critics’ Week Award at Cannes for his explosive film. A creative flurry of music videos followed before his follow-up feature in 2002, with the shocking drama Irreversible, centred around a distressing rape sequence, resulting in 200 people walking out of the Cannes premiere. 

This is all part of Noé’s provocative showmanship, however, with his brand having since been built on this notorious reputation for distressing images and distasteful subject matters. Indeed the divisive filmmaker is a somewhat narcissistic one, indulging in the ego of his own directorial style, flashing subtitles that invite his audience to leave the cinema in I Stand Alone, whilst making needless cameos in Irreversible, Enter the Void and Love.

Though divisive and self-indulgent, there’s no doubt that Noé is a challenging filmmaker, creating movies that challenge the possibility of the medium whilst generating public shock at the very lengths he is willing to go to in order to recreate his artistic vision. There’s a method to the madness too, with each shocking gesture of his films being carefully engineered to awaken a concealed emotion from within the mind of the viewer. 

Focusing largely on form over content, it is the sensation of experiencing the spectacle that Noé is concerned with, often placing the viewer in the very mind of the character rather than inviting them to sympathise with their lives. Utilising first-person cinematography and frequent closeups, much of Noé’s cinema focuses on the relinquishing of control, putting your eyes in the possession of the filmmaker and the characters, as you experience life from a totally new perspective. 

In many ways, watching a Gaspar Noé is no passive experience, with the floating cinematography and first-person perspective sharing more with the idea of ‘being’ a character in a video game, where one embodies a totally new identity. In an age of immersive VR content, the cinema of Noé provides the closest thing to an out of body experience without donning the hefty gadget goggles or dropping a job load of narcotics.

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